IS Claim To Sri-lanka Bombings Under Questionby Opinion Express May 7, 2019 0 comments
The local militant Islamist group involved in the attacks neither had the sophistication nor the ability to carry out such attacks. It was clearly steered more by the ISI than IS
Despite all the confusion, carnage and horror of the Sri Lankan suicide bomb attacks, that killed at least 359 people and left hundreds more injured, one thing that is abundantly clear is the utter futility of such attempts by religious bigots to change the world to their likeness. Of course, there is also a stark reality that Governments around the world are forced to confront and for which politicians pay a heavy price: That despite the strictest of controls imposed, little can actually be done to control the turn of such events. In the case of Sri Lanka, the security and intelligence establishment appeared to have become complacent if not comatose after it defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009.
Politicians try and make a living by trying to convince the citizens that they have the necessary expertise and required abilities if given a free hand to make their lives safe, secure and comfortable. Nothing can be further from the truth as at the end of the day, howsoever sophisticated and technology-dependent the data collection, analysis and dissemination process may be, they are all finally subject to the frailties and follies of human beings.
It has emerged that in the case of Sri Lanka, actionable intelligence provided by Indian agencies was not acted upon because of the on-going factional fight between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. This apart, there’s also the perception that these agencies were keen on creating a rift between Sri Lanka and Pakistan over the issue. Also, there may well have been a sense of complacency, not least given the common perception that Indian agencies rarely get it right — the Pulwama tragedy being the latest one in a long line of such disasters.
Fortunately, the Sri Lankan Government did move rapidly after the attacks. Once it had overcome the initial shock, it was able to identify the perpetrators and put in place a series of measures that have till now prevented a repeat of such attacks from being executed. Also, except for a couple of minor incidents, they have been able to prevent reprisals against the Muslim community, the overwhelming majority of whose members are upright and loyal citizens, who were equally shocked and incensed by the senseless atrocities perpetrated in the name of their religion. This ensured that much of the subsequent intelligence that enabled the police and security forces to stop further attacks was provided from within the community.
Finally, one could not help but appreciate Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s prompt action to publicly apologise for the inability of his Government to forestall the tragedy. He further ensured accountability by sacking the defence secretary and police chief for inaction on their part and for deliberately withholding intelligence about possible terrorist attacks. Our political leadership will do well to learn from this. They must keep their egos under control and focus on accountability every time they come short instead of clinging on to their chairs as they all do.
Interestingly, while the Islamic State (IS) lost no time in claiming responsibility for the attacks, its ability to actually coordinate and execute such a sophisticated and complex attack, involving seven suicide bombers, seems quite doubtful. The fact that it is on the run obviously makes organising such an attack extremely challenging, though it may well have been able to radicalise the perpetrators online.
On the other hand, dismissing their involvement as out of hand would also be quite foolish, given that its ideology has attracted a large number of followers in recent years. We have already seen some pointers towards this in our neighbourhood as well as in Jammu & Kashmir. Moreover, we must also remember that a vast number of our population emigrates to the Middle East in search of jobs and it is not inconceivable that some among these workers may well have fallen prey to this radical ideology and returned to South Asia to carry forward the Islamic State’s war against non-believers. It will indeed be interesting to learn what interrogations of suspects — captured before they were able to act — brings out.
Then there is, of course, the alternative narrative that suggests the involvement of Pakistan’s Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) along with Chinese intelligence to create an environment within the country that can enable former President Mahendra Rajapaksa to once again win the presidential hustings due in the near future. That he was rabidly anti-Indian in his past two tenures as President is not under doubt as also his wholehearted support for Pakistan and China.
This perception is supported by the belief that Indian agencies were able to provide such detailed actionable intelligence only because they had caught and interrogated some members of a module, connected to the perpetrators at Coimbatore.
It has been a long-standing belief within our security and intelligence community that after the withdrawal of the Indian Peace Keeping Force from Sri Lanka and the subsequent refusal of the Indian Government to supply the Sri Lankan armed forces with weapons, the Sri Lankan Government turned to Pakistan for assistance. It is at this time that Pakistan’s ISI established a foothold
in that island nation, which was used to radicalise, train, arm and employ Islamists for operations in South India.
Let us not forget that Sri Lankan Muslims have sided with Pakistan since the Partition. And have been united by the “big” presence of India in the neighbourhood to coalesce their mutual interests. Let us also not forget that during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, when India withdrew landing and overflight rights to Pakistan, Sri Lanka extended landing and refuelling facilities to Pakistan International Airlines. As the Pakistan Army launched operations against the Mukti Bahini, Pakistani military aircraft landed and took off from the Katunayake international airport. While Sri Lanka insisted these aircraft were civilian, there were reports that they actually carried armed troops. And as the Tamil separatists also kept the island Muslims at bay, Pakistan’s ISI got actively involved in the local government’s counter-offensive strategies.
In this particular case, while there is the possibility that these elements may well have acted independently, it could just as well have been a “false flag” operation to push the blame on cadres of the Islamic State, who in their present condition, would have been more than happy to accept responsibility for obvious reasons.
One way or the other, the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, the local militant Islamist group involved in the attacks, neither had the sophistication nor the ability to carry out such attacks and clearly unknown foreign organisations provided them with the necessary technical and logistic support.
Finally, in our context, there have been credible reports that Islamists have been successful in establishing a fairly strong presence in States such as West Bengal and Kerala, where they now seem to be becoming increasingly assertive. They have got away with this primarily because local Governments have been reluctant to act against them in the foolish hope that by doing so, they would gain the support of the Muslim community to consolidate power. This bodes ill for the country in the long run and requires the Union Government to undertake necessary measures, some of which may well make them unpopular, if we are to avoid a turbulent and extremely violent future.
(The writer, a military veteran, a consultant with the Observer Research Foundation and a Senior Visiting Fellow with The Peninsula Foundation, Chennai)
Writer: Deepak Sinha
Courtesy: The Pioneer